Audio Obscura – Adventures In The Anthropocene

News stories about climate change are generally coupled with their own distinct imagery. We are now well used to seeing images of, variously, the terrifying silhouettes of forest fires, of cliff faces or ice shelves crumbling into the ocean, of factory chimneys billowing fumes into the atmosphere, of aerial shots of vast, sprawling megacities or images of mute animals acting as a short-hand for extinction. In this context, there is something both depressing and terrifying about the image that Neil Stringfellow selected for the sleeve image of his follow up to last year’s Audio Obscura album, Love In The Time Of The Anthropocene

Not for Stringfellow these stock images; instead he has chosen something somehow more relatable, more impactful, and more shameful than images that we have become, if not inured to, then certainly used to – a municipal dump, the vast industrialised means of disposing of mankind’s waste en masse, and a row of washing machines, ovens and televisions. The circumstance of their disposal is, of course, not clear, but it is a thought-provoking image nonetheless. Were they replaced because they didn’t fit the household’s aesthetic and changing tastes? Were they replaced because they were no longer working? Could they have been repaired? What will happen to these appliances next? Will they be dismantled, their parts stripped, salvaged and recycled into new appliances? (Unlikely.) Or will they be shipped on vast diesel-powered vessels to distant shores where they will become some other community’s problem? As I said: depressing and terrifying. 

Adventures In The Anthropocene is, itself, partly recycled. It includes remixes of tracks by Scanner, Belly Full Of Stars and Rupert Lally; it includes an alternative version of ‘The Clattering Train’ from Love In The Time Of The Anthropocene; it includes a thirty-minute live performance of the original album reworked into a single tapestry. The album also includes five new pieces, including the stunning opening track ‘Komorebi 木漏れ日’, named for the untranslatable Japanese expression for sunlight passing through leaves. 

The impact of Love In The Time Of The Anthropocene was perhaps most felt in its afterglow. Stringfellow’s message was both direct, but also subtle. It inspired you to think differently, but its bleak, detached tonality also offered little hope to cling on to. It arrived smack in the middle of the pandemic, where the world felt unexpectedly united, for once. There was a common enemy, a common problem, a need to collaborate across borders to tackle a common threat; a new President was shortly afterwards installed into the White House, and one of his first gestures was to reverse his predecessor’s dismissal of climate change and his conjoined, hateful nationalistic rhetoric. There was a sense of hope: what if this effort to mitigate a virus could be applied to climate change (something, lest we forget, that has the potential to cause many, many more deaths than COVID19)? Fast forward to the release of its (sort of) sequel and things feel like they’ve shifted. Rather than celebrating the speed and efficacy of cross-border vaccine development, it has instead become a geo-political warzone and the embodiment of vaccine-led colonialism (a new book by Peter Hotez, Preventing The Next Pandemic, adroitly deals with this subject). And spend any time in your local English shopping centre or high street the weekend after non-essential retail opened and you will see just how far we haven’t come, being the embodiment of greed and self-centred individualism, not the ‘we’re all in this together’ spirit that existed for a lot of 2020. 

Adventures In The Anthropocene’s release is, thus, timely. The central live piece, using extensive segments of narrated commentary about what humankind has wrought on this world – including creating the perfect conditions for global pandemics such as COVID-19 – is a useful wake-up call for anyone whose sole focus has been booking a flight to some far-flung destination or queuing for hours outside Primark just to buy some cheap, disposable, unsustainable fashion frippery. There is a significantly larger issue at hand; we may have survived the pandemic, but it is merely a symptom of the bigger war we’re in danger of forgetting about if we don’t act now. 

Scanner’s remix of ‘Goodbye Helocene’ at least sounds optimistic. For his mix, Robin Rimbaud has developed a sort of woozy, shimmering, journeying exotica from the bones of the original track, which has the effect of distracting you from its less-than-cheery subject starting point. In contrast, Further. favourite Rupert Lally takes ‘Radio Anthropocene’ off in an appropriately darkened, brooding direction, its plaintive piano and droning backdrop sounding like the final broadcast of a damaged transmitter before the end of the world, while Belly Full Of Stars re-imagine ‘Love Is…’ as a modern classical duet for swirling saxophone and mournful cello set to clipped, inchoate beats. 

The album ends with one of Stringfellow’s new pieces, ‘The Last Full Day Of Civilisation’. There is a fragility here, and a sense of pretty, stirring wistfulness. Its delicate, overlapping, chiming music box melodies might sound celebratory, but only in the sense that music played at a funeral is celebratory. To this listener, it wordlessly says, ‘Here lived homo sapiens, who consciously squandered the gift they were given, and in so doing made themselves extinct.’ If that doesn’t make you sit up and take action, then really nothing will, and we’re all doomed to the fate foretold in Stringfellow’s ruminative closing arguments. 

Adventures In The Anthropocene by Audio Obscura was released March 4 2021. 

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2021 Further. 

Mariel Roberts – Armament

Mariel Roberts is a Brooklyn-based cellist, known for her many collaborations and her free-spirited approach to blending classical formalism with improvised gestures. Armament is the follow-up to her 2017 solo album Cartography and her involvement with the amorphous, ever-changing Numinous ensemble, who released the album The Grey Land last year. 

Armament consists of four pieces – two relatively short, and two longer – that find Roberts using pedals and other interventions to disrupt the ordinarily bucolic sound of the cello. While there are undoubtedly moments here where light seems to shine through, the overarching feeling is one of unsettling disquiet. In this way, it feels like an album perfectly suited to today’s disrupted world, even though it was recorded before our lives were restricted. 

Running through these four pieces is an intense and ominous rumble. That bassy foundation layer ebbs and flows, but it is the element that stays with long after the concluding moments of ‘Arrow’ have dissipated into silence. The cello is known for a certain maudlin, mournful disposition, but in Roberts’ hands it takes on a amplified, darkened, brooding quality, its recognisable qualities displaced and refracted through the effects pedals she uses. 

During the seventeen-minute ‘Hoard’ we hear that technique at perhaps its most complete, featuring moments of swirling, squalling dissonance where you can hear the physical pressure she is placing on the strings; passages are looped and processed into ruminative, unswerving drones that feel like long, undulating echoes, in time phasing into themselves to create nauseating microtonal skew; outlines of plaintive, uncertain melodies float overhead, becoming layered into a semblance of a string quartet yet with only one player; playful pizzicato sections create a levity, only to be crushed beneath aggressive swipes at the strings; heavily distorted sections buzz with a juddering, irrepressible, impenetrable death metal dirge. At one point, the cello ceases to be recognisable at all, become a warped, fluctuating electronic arpeggio full of brusque edges and violent energy. For this all to happen in one single episodic piece is an indication of Roberts’ creative mind in overdrive. 

This is not a comfortable listen. It possesses very little that we might come to expect from an album created using the cello. So unrecognisable is the venerable instrument at times that if she had explained it was made entirely using tape loops or processed electronics, its foundation instrument would never have been known. Roberts describes the origins of the title as reflecting back the combative times we live in, where seemingly innocuous, innocent things are swept up alongside more purposefully hateful gestures as part of an antagonistic, aggressive cultural shift. In this sense, Roberts’ techniques and interventions are both her shields and her weapons, making Armament a powerfully incisive statement delivered in the form of a beautiful, unpredictable, mesmerising noise. 

Armament by Mariel Roberts was released February 5 2021 by figureight. 

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2021 Further. 

Orca, Attack! – C.M.S.O.

Orca, Attack! is a long-running, on-off, whale-admiring pairing of Elizabeth Joan Kelly and David Rodriguez. Both New Orleans musicians have parallel solo careers, and both find themselves dealing with a combination of technology, abject panic and general electronic music subversiveness. Together, their self-proclaimed “swamp-rock-meets-space-opera-and-folk” leanings as Orca, Attack!, in practice, sound nothing like that; it helps to approach their new release knowing that they have a penchant for tongue-in-cheek wryness. 

C.M.S.O. is a compact, six-track album released by the venerable Strategic Tape Reserve. The release is the label’s inaugural cassette in a series called Learning By Listening, purporting to be an educational initiative that builds up almost like a periodical subscription, or the separately-purchased volumes of an encyclopaedia “designed to bring the information of the world into your home, and your brain”. This first release covers something called ‘Course Management System Organization’. 

Fun, right? Try Googling it. 

The thing is, it all sounds plausible. These days you can whack any four vaguely corporate-sounding words together, create an acronym and let it live. In years to come, there may well arise a concept called Course Management System Organization, and Kelly and Rodriguez will be hailed as its lauded originators, but for now you have to accept that this is an educational tape about something that doesn’t exist. We live in a world of misinformation and mistruths; what’s real and what’s fake have become indistinguishable, giving rise to a weird sense of being in both a Kafka novel and an Escher picture at the same time. Once you accept that, see the joke and listen to this for what it is, you can have a blast with the pieces here. Life is way too short to be so serious all the time, after all. 

With academically-infused titles (‘Abstract’, ‘Introduction’, ‘Literature Review’, ‘Conclusion’, ‘Limitations’, ‘Ethical Approval’), these pieces acknowledge the influence of Raymond Scott, beloved inventor of electronic instruments, unlikely jazz band leader and a composer whose distinctive approach leant itself to use in madcap cartoons – in short, the kind of avant garde personality we’re sorely missing in these uptight 2020s. You hear the overhang of Scott’s approach in a sort of playful bounce in these pieces, each of which find itself on an odd frontier between wide-eyed synth experiments and science documentary soundtrack. Both Kelly and Rodriguez contribute vocals, either as spoken-word, instructive lecture-esque monologues, or as angelic harmonies sweeping high above the accompanying electronic backdrops, or as processed, gradually slowed-down, indecipherable non sequiturs. 

C.M.S.O. might lack any sort of educational substance, and its twenty-minute, CliffsNotes brevity might well be a generally pessimistic statement on our ability to concentrate for long periods of time; look beyond what it might or might not be trying to tell you, and its masqueraded seriousness is a huge amount of much-needed, liberating fun.  

C.M.S.O. by Orca, Attack! is released April 16 2021 by Strategic Tape Reserve 

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2021 Further. 

MICROCORPS – XMIT

XMIT is the debut album from MICROCORPS, a new alias of Grumbling Fur’s Alexander Tucker. The emphasis here is placed squarely on electronic rhythms, eschewing the pointillism of glitch and the recognisable dancefloor beats of minimal techno in favour of a liminal zone occupied by intense arrays of pulses and submergent bass tones. 

The effect is both arresting and beautifully discomforting. Overlaid by nausea-inducing, seesawing drones and hissing sweeps, opening track ‘JFET’ sets the scene for XMIT‘s eight tracks. There is rarely a moment on ‘JFET’ where the rhythm falters or pauses, creating a sense of claustrophobia but also a sort of epiphanic transcendency and euphoria thanks to that same relentlessness. A similar approach emerges on the sparse ‘XEM’ with Gazelle Twin, whose monologue was inspired by Alien but which sounds mostly like unsettling layered ghost voices to my easily-spooked ears. ‘ILN’, recorded with Nik Void, features a juddering beat reminiscent of Autechre while they still had regard for rhythmic convention, over which the pair overlay seemingly random sonic events, each of which are promptly splintered and ensnared by the track’s swampy low-end. 

‘UVU’ is perhaps the album’s greatest departure from itself. Consisting of a slower rhythm, an unswerving violin-like drone and choppy synths that sound like scanning searchlights, ‘UVU’ charts a dangerous course. There is a roughness and menace here that claws away at you insistently, evoking a firmness and sense of determined purpose, but also an air of troubling anxiety. ‘OCT’ (with Simon Fisher Turner) is a metallic, unpredictable noisescape that acts almost like the inverse of the other tracks here, its rhythms audible but by no means the focal point. 

XMIT is a challenging listen, but maybe it’s not so challenging if your reference points are the likes of Throbbing Gristle or Cabaret Voltaire, both of whom took a similarly broadminded view of the elemental properties (and physical impacts) of rhythms. What Tucker has harnessed best of all with XMIT is the thrilling, vibrant sound and energy of pure electrical current, here wrestled and tamed into a regimented form, but one that always feels like it’s on the frontier of suddenly becoming wildly out of control. Embracing that central tension is what makes this brilliant debut such a compelling listen. 

XMIT by MICROCORPS is released April 16 2021 by Alter. 

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2021 Further. 

A Clew Of (Tape)worms: venoztks / Nigel Wrench / Patrick Shiroishi & Zachary Paul

Three new releases from The Tapeworm reflect the idiosyncratic, democratic approach to presenting material that has been the mainstay of the label since it was established in 2009.

venoztks is the alias of one of the three founders of The Tapeworm, though we don’t precisely know which one. How It’s Not Meant To Be is an exploration of electronic improvisation, full of prowling frequency fluctuations, gravelly static, sibilant hissing, clicks, unpredictable tone formations and rapid oscillations between noisy rumbles and quiet, occasionally flute-like intricacy. Scratchy noises appear, flutter violently at your ears and then recede, once more becoming inchoate and elusive.

While a lot of this tape is reminiscent of the earliest recorded electronic experiments, somewhat randomly, the spiralling, endless ebb and flow of sounds and the way they constantly wriggle (worm-like?) out of your grasp makes me think of those poor contestants on The Crystal Maze trying to snag as many gold foil tokens as they can before time runs out. Unlike that torturous final stage of the gameshow, however, there is plenty of time on How It’s Not Meant To Be to try and clutch at these sounds – an hour to be precise.

The venoztks website helpfully lists all the frequencies used in his works should you wish to attempt a cover version. Read more about The Tapeworm in our interview here.

Investigative journalist Nigel Wrench’s ZA87 is the sequel, of sorts, to another Tapeworm release (ZA86) from 2015. Wrench’s career took him to the brutally segregated streets of Soweto in the mid-1980s, finding him at the epicentre of tensions rarely without a microphone in his hand.

ZA87 acts as a powerful document of events that took place on a single day – July 27 1987. The subject of Wrench’s recording is the funeral of teenage activist Peter Sello Motau, assassinated by South African police. We hear Motau’s father’s outpouring of grief and disbelief at both his son’s death and the efforts of the police to halt the funeral. We hear poignant, rousing traditional singing. We hear Wrench interviewing Winnie Mandela, and Mandela provoking the police with a firm and frank riposte at their actions to restrict the funeral.

We hear sirens tearing past, creating a divisive moment of fear and panic. As an unadulterated, raw field recording, ZA87 is an unswerving audio document of one person’s sacrifice and a nation’s turbulent journey toward the ending of apartheid. More details can be found at www.za87.org

Of The Shapes Of Hearts And Humans is less a collaboration between saxophonist Patrick Shiroishi and violinist Zachary Paul as it is a journal entry.

Recorded on an early September day at Garfield Park in Pasadena, the duo improvisation was made at a time when the worst wildfires in the state’s history were raging across California, but there is little untameable heat to be found in this pairing. Instead, there is a delicate poignancy to their intertwining melodies, and a rueful, introspective levity, even amid moments of scratchy dissonance. It is a subtly uplifting experience to hear these two players gently weaving around one another in the open-air surroundings of the park.

A few days later, Paul upped sticks out of LA and began moving across the breadth of the United States. As he made his way eastward, one imagines that it was possible to still hear the echoes of his interplay with Shirioshi carried softly and sweetly on the September breezes that fuelled the devastating fires.

Tapeworm releases: How It’s Not Meant To Be by venoztks was released December 11 2020; ZA87 by Nigel Wrench was released March 5 2021; Of The Shapes Of Hearts And Humans by Patrick Shiroishi and Zachary Paul was released March 11 2021. Visit the Bandwurm minimart here.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2021 Further.

Kjetil Mulelid – Piano

Piano is Norwegian jazz musician Kjetil André Mulelid’s first solo album. Ordinarily to be found leading a trio with drummer Andreas Skår Winther and bassist Bjørn Marius Hegge, the pianist had been encouraged to make a solo piano album nearly two years before recording the two locked-down sessions in June and September of last year that yielded Piano.

The eleven pieces here were each performed on the 1919 Bösendorfer grand piano located at Halden’s Athletic Sound studio. Mulelid talks about the instrument’s imperfect sound being a direct contributor to the tone of the album, but unless you are a pianist of his calibre, it’s hard to detect. Instead, what you hear are pieces like the fragile, introspective ‘Le Petit’ or the pretty ‘Skjong’ that straddle the gulf between classical music and jazz.

The majority of the album was recorded during a heatwave. Strange, then, that in these pieces I can hear rain. Specifically, I find myself imagining being sat in an empty café – probably in Paris; when my heart aches I usually find myself transported to the Paris of my mind – staring out onto puddles forming in the road. Perhaps it’s because I hear a sort of muted, haunting lightness of touch in Mulelid’s playing, or maybe it’s just the frame of mind I’ve found myself in every time I’ve put this album on. There is undoubtedly euphoria and beauty here in the languid note formations of a piece like the tender ‘For You I’ll Do Anything’ or closing track ‘The Sun’, but I also hear a sadness, a contemplative dimension that feels oddly anguished.

Lockdown may have limited Mulelid’s options to get his band together, but in Piano he has produced a striking, transcendent album that I expect to return to endlessly.

https://open.spotify.com/album/7yRzVFzD4b5aTWlXsFIm6k?si=ac_tzZeJQjWZs_h3K0h3bQ

Piano by Kjetil Mulelid was released March 19 2021 by Rune Grammofon. Thanks to Jim.

(c) 2021 Further.

Tortusa – Bre

Tortusa is the project of electronic musician John Derek Bishop, who hails from Stavanger in Norway. On his second album, Bishop has assembled perhaps one of the strongest Norwegian jazz groups ever committed to record – drummer Erland Dahlen, guitarists Eivind Aarset and Svein Rikard Mathisen, trumpeters Arve Henriksen and Simen Kiil Halvorsen, and saxophonist Inge Weatherhead Breistein, Bishop’s collaborator on 2017’s ghostly Mind Vessel

Except, a group – at least in the traditional sense – it most definitely is not: Bishop’s sleight of hand is to take samples of live performances by each of the musicians before adding analogue synthesisers, field recordings and computer processing to create imaginative, powerfully ruminative soundscapes. By his own acknowledgment, many of the musicians feeding into the twelve pieces on Bre are some of his heroes; yet his approach on a piece like ‘Bristen Ingen Kjente’, featuring Erland Dahlen, is to suppress the drummer’s rhythms into mere whispers, so vague that finding his playing is a little like trying to locate an imperceptible pulse in a hibernating woodland creature. Rather than using Dahlen’s dextrous playing to create the foundation of his track, Bishop instead uses a field recording of endlessly running water, through which appear tiny moments of treated percussion. 

Sometimes the contributions are more pronounced. Breistein’s sax melody on the album’s title track carries a delicate, questioning quality that’s presented more or less as the musician would have played it; on ‘Lyset Likevel’, Aarset’s guitar ripples and shimmers over a dubby pulse. You can undoubtedly tell that Bishop has a weakness for Henriksen’s trumpet playing. His contributions to ‘Ubevegelige’ and ‘Preget Uten Minne’ might be treated with echo and surrounded by all manner of unpredictable sonic interventions, but Bishop leaves the trumpeter’s melody more or less intact, creating a haunting, stirring, inquisitive Souk-like atmosphere in the process. 

The closest that Bre gets to the Norwegian supergroup suggested by gathering these luminaries together is on ‘Ikke Tale’, featuring Dahlen, Aarset and Breistein. On ‘Ikke Tale’ you can hear Dahlen’s gently polyrhythmic drumming, even if it’s placed far off in the distance; Breistein peels off some contemplative after-hours melodies; Aarset offers some pretty, blues-y guitar licks. On one level, this is a traditional jazz trio, but it’s one that’s strangely detached, deconstructed and reassembled, presented with a sparseness and reverb-drenched ambient aesthetic that is entirely Bishop’s own. 

Bre by Tortusa was released March 5 2021 by Jazzland. Thanks to Jim. 

(c) 2021 Further. 

Kemper Norton – Troillia

The Cornish roots of the mysterious Kemper Norton run deep in his music. Though outwardly electronic, his compositions have a naturalistic edge inspired by the local folklore, mythology and topography of his home county. In the last few years he has released albums inspired by everything from the Torrey Canyon oil spill (Toll, 2016) to the abandoned arsenic production facilities that litter the Cornish landscape (Brunton Calciner, 2019 and Oxland Cylinder, 2020), in so doing isolating a sort of ghostly fascination with vestigial relics that have left an indelible mark on England’s otherwise unspoilt western frontier.

‘Troillia’ is an old Cornish verb meaning to spin round. Over time, the word became ‘troyl’, the Cornish equivalent of the ceilidh dance. With Troillia, we find Kemper Norton turning his distinctive gaze to the Cornish culture, through references to these traditional dances, exploring regional Celtic links to Scottish songs and the fairs, parades and civic events that can be found in many Cornish communities.

These are things that are somehow disconnected from time and place, passed down by generations ceaselessly without their true origins being understood. The effect is to give a piece like ‘Crowshensa’ and ‘Cantol’ a blurry, imperceptible, unplaceable dimension, their genteel, undulating accordion drones rapidly subsumed beneath layers of murky reverb and synthetic hum before once more returning to their original states or cacophonous chatter by the end. ‘Three Craws’ finds our Cornish spirit guide singing in a plaintive voice against a backdrop of subtle turbulence, while the angular, amorphous shapes of ‘Corwedhen’ offer glimpses of other things – cyclical passages, inchoate rhythms – that seems to encapsulate this notion of appreciating tradition while not appreciating whence they originate.

Kemper Norton’s enduring conceit is to give seemingly innocuous things a sense of creepy displacement. Though he is at pains to point out that this album was made in sunlight instead of in the darkness of Victorian Industrial Age relics, on Troillia you feel this sense of modernity clashing uncomfortably with tradition, without ever knowing precisely why it makes us feel this way. Its ten pieces occupy their own post-hauntological, interstitial time zone, a queasy, discomforting interzone where our electroacoustic hero is the sonic archivist of long forgotten cultural reference points.

Troillia by Kemper Norton is released March 29 2021.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2021 Further.

Huntsville – Bow Shoulder

Bow Shoulder is the stuff of near-legend. The album documents a 2010 impromptu improvised recording session at the Chicago studio of alt. country stalwarts Wilco following a gig the prior day by Huntsville – the Norwegian trio of Ivar Grydeland (electronics, electric guitar, acoustic guitar and pedal steel), Tonny Kluften (electric bass) and Ingar Zach (tabla machine, drone commander, drums and percussion) – that saw them sharing a bill with Wilco percussionist Glenn Kotche’s On Fillmore side-hustle, and which saw both Kotche and Wilco guitarist Nels Cline hop on stage for the Hunstville encore. 

Convening at Wilco’s Loft space on June 29, presumably because Cline and Kotche happened to have the keys, the Huntsville players entered into a lengthy session that saw the already formidable five musicians augmented by Kotche’s fellow On Fillmore partner Darin Gray (bass) and keyboardist Yuka Honda. Edited and mixed ten years later by Grydeland at Oslo’s Amper Tone studio, Bow Shoulder consists of four lengthy pieces ranging from a svelte seven minutes to a expansive twenty, each one displaying diverse tonalities and a seamless, highly perceptive interplay. 

‘Side Wind’, which opens the collection, is like a gathering storm, a landscape full of sonic tension – scratchy guitar sounds, the kinds of wild yet totally controlled effects that Cline manages to weave into whatever project he is hired onto, tabla percussion, long, droning notes and the outlines of melodic gestures. There is movement and progress here, but little by way of pay off. Around eight minutes in it feels like it might suddenly blow over into a thunderous psych-motorik groove as a tight bassline nudges itself forward, but that would be too obvious for Huntsville & Friends; instead things subside again into a tense quietude but a sense of hypnotic, trance-like forward motion remains. 

Each piece is different from the next, but yet somehow utterly inseparable from the whole. The most significant departure arrives on ‘Lower’, wherein a more muscular interlocking between Zach and Kotche produces intense bursts of rhythm and subtle percussion gestures, upon which are heaped growling, whining feedback, distorted countermelodies that recall Cline’s pal Lee Ranaldo, long, fluttering echoes and grubby electronics. There is a feeling here of loops unspooling into the void, their final resting place a dense, impenetrable web of murky, thrilling noise, the whole piece finally arriving at a brooding, rhythmic intersection of menacing guitars and incessantly pounded drums. 

This is a mesmerising artefact born of chance encounters and shared aesthetics, of intense musicianship and the symbiotic power of seasoned improvisers playing off one another. 

Bow Shoulder by Huntsville (with Yuka Honda, Nels Cline, Darin Gray and Genn Kotche) was released September 25 2020 by Hubro. 

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2020 Further. 

Code – Ghost Ship

Twenty-five years after their debut, Code – a Kent quartet of Andrew PhillipsDarren TillDavid Mitchell and Graham Cupples – have released the follow-up to 1995’s The Architect

The Architect was a deservedly celebrated album, dropping in at a time when crossover techno and dance music was perhaps at its most interesting, gaining significant audiences tired of Brit-pop. Code’s music had the sampleadelic diversity of The Chemical Brothers, the progressive house rhythms of Leftfield and Spooky and the rabbit punch to the temples embodied by the likes of Empirion. 

And then… nothing. Eschewing the Code name in 1996, the quartet released the album Deco under the name Mortal (pseudonyms were a big thing in the genre-precious mid-1990s), but nothing followed. The title Ghost Ship is thus appropriately named: inspired by the real-life ghost ship, the MV Alta, that ran aground on the coast of Ireland in February of this year after disappearing out in the Atlantic near Bermuda and floating crewlessly for 18 months, the title is an allegory for a group that also just seemed to vanish

The material on Ghost Ship was largely pieced together from hard drives containing material recorded just after the release of The Architect. Consequently, some of the tracks here have a certain period nostalgia to them – squelchy synths that burble and rise to the surface with ambient panache, glitch-free rhythms, Gregorian chants and the sort of blunt energy that existed before minimalism discarded all of the unnecessary accoutrements of dance music and instead channelled its essential, nagging pulse. 

‘Breathe Slow’ has a sort of trippy fog, featuring samples of wobbly French dialogue, a sort of sub-aquatic dub-techno dynamism, and a reassuring vocal that is echoed in the hypnotherapy samples in the slow-motion, jazzy funk of ‘Listen To Me’ that follows. These tropes are familiar if, like me, you spent your time absorbing yourself in so many of the dance acts that emerged in the 1990s. Listening to Ghost Ship is like being aboard a boat back through your own history; listening to this lost gem is like being transported in time to how I felt as my ears were being opened up to dance music most fully, the decisions I made while flicking through racks and racks of otherwise faceless white labels and the friends I formed around the music I decided was mine. 

One of the highlights here is ‘The Building’, a bristling, urgent vocal techno banger nodding in the direction of Underworld at their most commercial. ‘The Building’ broods with both a lysergic energy and a detached, almost quotidian trawl through daily movements inside a structure whose plans were sketched by ‘The Architect’. The other standout track is ‘Midnight’, whose wiry synths and plaintive vocals prompt a sort of trepidatious euphoria. 

Ghost Ship is the album that never was, and the album that now is; a record from a band that vanished without a trace for two and a half decades but who have now run aground on our sonic foreshore with a cargo full of ideas fully intact. 

Ghost Ship by Code was released November 6 2020 by Lo-Tek Audio Ltd. 

Words: Mat Smith. With thanks to Gary at Red Sand. 

(c) 2020 Further.